Third baby dies from contaminated milk formula in China

KidneyBeijing - Three babies have died, 158 children have developed "serious kidney problems" while 6,244 infants were sickened by baby formula spiked with a toxic chemical, Chinese officials said Wednesday.

The third baby to die from the melamine-contaminated baby formula is from south-eastern Zhejiang province, Health Minister Chen Zhu told a press conference Wednesday morning. The first two babies five and eight months old, were from north-west Gansu province.

Parents of the 1,327 hospitalized children will not have to pay for the medical tratment of their children, Chen said. Medical experts were sent to local clinics to help with diagnoses and treatment in a bid to prevent further deaths.

Adding the chemical melamine seems to be common in China's milk industry with inspectors finding it in 69 batches of milk powder made by 22 companies nationwide, reported Li Changjiang, head of the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) Wednesday.

One company based in eastern Qingdao was confirmed as an exporter among the firms found with tainted products, Li said.

Officials ordered a halt to the sale of the tainted products which included such well-known brands as Sanlu, Mengniu, Yili and Yashili, among others.

The AQSIQ found the melamine content in Sanlu brand reached 2,563 mg per kilogram, the highest among all the samples. In other samples, the range was from 0.09 mg to 619 mg per kilogram.

Four people in connection with the contamination were arrested in Hebei and 22 other people have been detained for questioning, and more arrests were expected, a spokesman for the government of the northern province of Hebei told Xinhua news agency.

The four arrested men are accused of adding melamine to their raw milk to boost its protein content. The milk was then sold to the Hebei-based San Lu Group to produce the baby formula.

Melamine is used as a binding agent and coating for particle, fiber and laminated board. It is also used to make fertilizer.

Government officials said San Lu, which supplies nearly a fifth of China's market with an inexpensive baby formula, knew about the contamination since March but didn't order a national recall of the powder until this week.

San Lu has made a public apology, and Hebei's provincial government announced that more than 10,000 tons of baby formula recalled in the contamination scandal would be destroyed.

Andrew Ferrier - chief executive of the New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra, which owns 43 per cent of San Lu - said Monday that his company had urged San Lu at least one month ago to recall the contaminated baby formula.

Reports from Beijing said reasons for the delay were unclear, but speculation abounded that China's authorities might have wanted to cover up the scandal because of the Beijing Olympics. The Beijing authorities only acted after interventions by the New Zealand government last week as local authorities failed to act.

Fonterra said from its Auckland headquarters that its Chinese subsidiary had made a voluntary recall of one batch of prenatal milk sold in China under the Anmum Materna brand name. (dpa)